Switzerland: 'Kasai violence drives over 11,000 Congolese to seek refuge in Angola'

Geneva, Switzerland (PANA) - A spike of violence in the Kasai Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has now forced over 11,000 refugees to seek safety in Angola, the UN refugee agency said in Friday.

UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson Babar Baloch said at a press briefing in Geneva that border points and villages inside the Southern African nation have seen a sharp increase in refugee arrivals with over 9,000 arriving so far in April.

The brutal conflict in Congo’s previously peaceful Kasai region has already displaced more than one million civilians within the country since it began in mid-2016, UNHCR noted.

Those fleeing into Angola continue to arrive mainly in Dundo, the capital of north-eastern Luanda Norte Province.

Baloch said refugees are fleeing attacks from militia groups, who are targeting police, military officials, and civilians who they believe are supporting or representing the Government.

"After running away from fighting rebel and Government forces, some refugees had to hide in the forest for several days before fleeing to Angola. Refugees are arriving in desperate conditions, without access to clean water, food or shelter."

Baloch said the situation among children is dire, as many are arriving malnourished and sick - suffering from diarrhea, fever and malaria. Two children are reported to have already died from severe malnutrition and UNHCR is concerned for the fate of others suffering from worrying levels of food insecurity and illnesses.

"The new arrivals are terrified and still fear for their lives and mentioned they do not have any immediate plans to return home. Some parents have reportedly sent their children across the border, worrying they would be forcibly recruited by the militias if they had stayed in the DRC."

UNHCR is currently coordinating refugee response with the Government, local authorities and partners on the ground. it is also negotiating with the Government for proper hosting sites as the current border locations are overcrowded and not suitable.

The UN refugee agency says it is sending an additional emergency team to Dundo on Saturday to support relief efforts.

UNHCR is also in the process of shipping family tents, kitchens sets, blankets, mosquito nets, sleeping mats and other essential relief items to the area.

Baloch said further aid is urgently needed, as refugees are forced to stay in makeshift buildings in the border villages. UNHCR noted that Angola’s wet season peaks in April and it is especially worried about the ongoing rains –– which could further complicate living conditions and the health of refugees, especially the most vulnerable such as women, children, the elderly and the disabled.

UNHCR welcomed the response of the Government of Angola in keeping its borders open for continued refugee arrivals.

"We hope that this gesture of goodwill will continue as the situation remains dire in DRC’s Kasai region. UNHCR is also underlining the importance of not returning people in need of international protection to the DRC," Baloch said.  
-0- PANA MA 21April2017

21 april 2017 14:13:04

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